October 5, 2022

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Hot starts headline first Prospect Team of the Week

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The start of another Minor League season isn’t a time for overreaction or hot takes about your favorite prospects. No one breaks out completely in April, nor does anyone sink their long-term stock.

But that doesn’t mean hot starts aren’t worth celebrating either.

The MLB Pipeline Prospect Team of the Week is back for 2022, honoring the best performers at all eight fielding positions alongside left- and right-handed starting pitchers and one reliever. To be eligible, a Minor League player must be ranked among his club’s Top 30 prospects on Pipeline’s lists. (Those in the Majors do not qualify.) This season’s opening edition features two Top 100 prospects, three total Cardinals (including one of those Top 100 names) and two Red Sox.

This is the Prospect Team of the Week for April 10-17:

C: Jonah Bride, Midland RockHounds (Double-A)
Athletics No. 28

.435/.500/.696, 6 G, 10-for-23, HR, 3 2B, 8 RBI, 8 R, 4 BB, 2 K

Bride is a recent convert to the catching position — his first actual game action at the position came last year in the Arizona Fall League — and that explains why he’s back in Double-A as a 26-year-old. His bat hasn’t skipped a beat in his return to Midland. The right-handed slugger picked up multiple hits in five of his six games for the RockHounds and had more extra-base hits and walks (four apiece) than strikeouts (two) in that span. He hit .265/.407/.424 over 78 games with Midland last season.

Also receiving votes: Luis Campusano (Padres)

1B: Mason Martin, Indianapolis Indians (Triple-A)
Pirates No. 24

.400/.400/.960, 6 G, 10-for-25, 2 HR, 2 3B, 4 2B, 7 RBI, 5 R, 0 BB, 6 K, 1 SB

Martin was left off the Pirates’ 40-man roster when he was Rule 5-eligible last November, but it’s his power that keeps him a ranked prospect in a deep Pittsburgh system. That’s coming to play in his early days at Triple-A Indianapolis. All but two of his hits in this stretch went for extra bases, and his .795 slugging percentage on the season as a whole ranks fourth among 220 Triple-A qualifiers entering Monday. A 30 percent strikeout rate (compared to only 2.5 percent for walks) remains a concern as he tries to earn that spot in Pittsburgh.

2B: Nolan Gorman, Memphis Redbirds (Triple-A)
Cardinals No. 2, MLB No. 32

.458/.519/1.208, 6 G, 11-for-24, 6 HR, 6 RBI, 9 R, 2 BB, 9 K, 1 HBP

The 2018 19th overall pick ended the week with homers in four straight games against Charlotte. His six total homers on the season — all of which strangely have been solo shots — are tied for second-most in the Minors at this early stage. Getting the ball off the ground more was a point of emphasis in Gorman’s return to Triple-A. His GB% has dropped from 45 percent in 2021 to 36.4 percent in the early sample — more promising signs that the 21-year-old could be ready for St. Louis before long.

3B: Davis Wendzel, Round Rock Express (Triple-A)
Rangers No. 17

.360/.467/.720, 7 G, 9-for-25, 2 HR, 3 2B, 4 RBI, 6 R, 5 BB, 4 K

The 24-year-old infielder opened the season 1-for-18 (.056) through his first five games but has gone 9-for-22 (.409) while reaching base half the time in his six contests since. After missing out on his first full season in 2020, Wendzel dealt with thumb and hamate issues last season that kept him from posting an average above .239 or an OPS above .797 at Double-A or Triple-A in 2021. It could be interesting to see how his offense takes off in a more healthy campaign, and after splitting time between short and third to start the season, he might see more time at the hot corner (or elsewhere) to get out of Corey Seager’s shadow in Texas.

SS: Matt McLain, Chattanooga Lookouts (Double-A)
Reds No. 4, MLB No. 86

.440/.482/1.120, 6 G, 11-for-25, 3 HR, 2 3B, 4 2B, 7 RBI, 10 R, 2 BB, 4 K, 2 SB

The 2021 first-rounder’s jump to Double-A to begin his first full season felt like an aggressive assignment. Then, he hit for the cycle on only seven pitches Sunday. That’s what aggressive really looks like. The UCLA product is considered a plus potential hitter from the right side, so it shouldn’t come as a huge shock that he’s off to a strong start, but even his four-digit slugging percentage beats expectations for a player who didn’t reach double-digit homers over a season in college. At this rate, he could reach that with the Lookouts by the end of May.

OF: Tyler Gentry, Quad Cities River Bandits (High-A)
Royals No. 28

.579/.636/1.000, 5 G, 11-for-19, 2 HR, 2 2B, 6 RBI, 6 R, 3 BB, 6 K, SB

Gentry only managed 44 games with Quad Cities last season due to knee issues, and the Royals had some concerns that he still wouldn’t be recovered enough to open this season back with the club. However, he began the season with the River Bandits and enters this week on a six-game, season-opening hitting streak. The Alabama product even has multiple hits in five straight contests and could push for a move to Double-A if this (and his knee health) continues.

OF: Jordan Brewer, Asheville Tourists (High-A)
Astros No. 21

.444/.546/1.111, 5 G, 8-for-18, 3 HR, 3B, 2B, 5 RBI, 10 R, 3 BB, 3 K, 3 SB, HBP

A near plus-plus runner with a good outfield arm, Brewer is a gifted athlete who faced some questions about his offensive ability headed into 2022. He’s handled himself well in the early going of his first taste of High-A, particularly when it comes to power. His three homers are already half his entire 2021 output in 59 fewer games. All three came at home in the hitter’s heaven that is Asheville, but it’s still to Brewer’s credit that he’s performed so well this early.

OF: Ceddanne Rafaela, Greenville Drive (High-A)
Red Sox No. 28

.394/.429/.818, 7 G, 13-for-33, 3 HR, 5 2B, 8 RBI, 10 R, 2 BB, 6 K, 2 SB, 1 CS

Like Brewer, Rafaela is known more for his speed and defensive work than his bat. That makes it all the more encouraging that the 5-foot-8 right-handed slugger picked up eight extra-base hits through seven games in this period. His 10 total XBH lead the High-A ranks, one spot above teammate Matthew Lugo and Tigers prospect Parker Meadows (seven). Rafaela is also tops at the level in runs (14), total bases (37) and tied for the most home runs (five) on the season as a whole.

LHP: Brandon Walter, Portland Sea Dogs (Double-A)
Red Sox No. 9

0-0, 0.00 ERA, 2 G, 2 GS, 11 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 12 K, 0.36 WHIP

Neither New Hampshire nor Harrisburg could touch Walter in his first two Double-A outings. The 25-year-old southpaw, who boasts a 92-94 sinking fastball and plus slider, struck out seven over five scoreless frames against the Fisher Cats in his debut on April 10 and followed that up with a six-inning scoreless gem six days later on the road against the Senators. He is one of four Double-A pitchers without an earned run through at least 10 innings to begin the season, and he’s the only member of the quartet yet to walk a batter.

RHP: Gordon Graceffo, Peoria Chiefs (High-A)
Cardinals No. 23

2-0, 0.82 ERA, 2 G, 2 GS, 11 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 12 K, 0.36 WHIP

Graceffo’s overall line in this period is eerily similar to Walter’s. The only difference is a singled earned run. Even so, his April 15 outing against Great Lakes (6 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 7 K) might have been the best of the two he’s made in the young season. A lot of eyes were going to be on the 2021 fifth-rounder after he showed improved velocity this spring and started to flirt with triple-digits. If he can maintain that for a full summer on top of his above-average control, the former Villanova hurler has a real chance to jump in the next version of the Cardinals rankings.

Also receiving votes: Hayden Juenger (Blue Jays), Kyle Nicolas (Pirates)

RP: Freddy Pacheco, Springfield Cardinals (Double-A)
Cardinals No. 29

0-0, 1 SV, 0.00 ERA, 3 G, 2 1/3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 5 K, 0.00 WHIP

Staying in the St. Louis system, Pacheco was added to the Cardinals’ 40-man roster in November to protect a 95-98 mph fastball and above-average slider from the Rule 5 Draft that never came. He’s had no issues turning that stuff into results early in 2022. Pacheco struck out five of the seven batters he faced in this period and, just as importantly, did not walk any of them. Control issues (like a 13.4 percent walk rate) have dulled his prospect profile previously, so the more he can limit them throughout this summer, the more quickly he can ascend toward St. Louis.

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